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Aoife Finneran: With a cupla focal, her majesty charms at glittering gathering

YOU really couldn't make it up. Not in our wildest dreams could we ever have imagined a night in Dublin where a British queen would utter a cupla focal -- only to have the limelight stolen from her by a reformed scarlet woman.

It was truly a spectacle of epic proportions. When Queen Elizabeth rose to speak at last night's State dinner at Dublin Castle, stylish in a white silk crepe State dress and the Queen Mary tiara, she had a little surprise up that shamrock-embroidered sleeve.

In a strong voice that belied her 85 years, she began with the words "A Uachtarain agus a chairde". The mouth of President Mary McAleese dropped open in delighted astonishment at the use of the Irish language, before she turned to her dining companions and exclaimed: "Wow!"

It should have been the talking point of a stunning evening of fine Irish cuisine and entertainment in St Patrick's Hall in Dublin Castle. Alas, Irish-speaking queens are well and good, but they pale in comparison to a sighting of undercover seductress and First Lady Iris Robinson. In a remarkable publicity exercise, the wife of Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson chose last night's State dinner as the scene of her first public appearance since her cataclysmic fall from grace 16 months ago.


When the former MP was exposed for having an affair with a 19-year-old, her reputation was further blackened by claims she procured £50,000 from two property developers to help her toy boy set up a business. She then sought treatment for depression and remained firmly away from prying public eye, until last night that is.

For her eagerly anticipated return to the limelight, Iris certainly didn't disappoint. In fact, the vision in a slim-fitting green gown was so arresting she was almost an ad for adultery.

With perfectly coiffed hair and a proud face, she glided into Dublin Castle on the arm of her husband a full 90 minutes before the dinner got under way. Head held high, she was greeted with a warm hug by President McAleese before moving on to the dining hall. There, she found a willing ear in the form of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, a man who also knows a thing or two about falling from grace.

One could hardly move for the sheer volume of ex-leaders roaming the room. Former President Mary Robinson mingled with Albert and Kathleen Reynolds. Rugby star Brian O'Driscoll and his wife Amy Huberman bagged the "fun" table, alongside GAA president Christy Cooney and President McAleese's son Justin, daughters Sara-Mai and Emma and her husband Michael. Eurovision winner Eimear Quinn chatted with Harry Crosbie and BA chief Willie Walsh.


A radiant Junior Minister Lucinda Creighton hit all the right notes with a stylish navy gown while Justice Minister Alan Shatter's daughter, Kelly, provided a splash of youthful colour with a short pink ensemble.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron was spotted in jovial conversation with a portly, dark-haired figure as photographers sprang to life. "Who's that guy?" inquired a UK journalist as a grim-looking former Taoiseach Brian Cowen lumbered towards his seat.

Under the elegant light of chandeliers, the guests were attended to by a team of white gloved waiters in tailcoats. As for the meal itself, Michelin-starred chef Ross Lewis pulled out all the stops to ensure a feast fit for a queen. Diners tasted cured salmon from the Burren, Rib of Slaney Valley Beef and ox cheek, Meath's finest strawberries and meringue with apples sourced from the Llewellyn orchard in Lusk.

The after-dinner entertainment was no less spectacular, with Planxty's Donal Lunny and a four-strong troupe of Riverdancers showcasing the best of Irish arts. It was a resounding success. But then again, perhaps the 172 guests had already enjoyed enough excitement for the evening.

After all, when you're in a room with an Irish-speaking queen and a real-life Mrs Robinson seductress, there's surely no better entertainment.